Historical Centre Air Base Brustem

In 1936, following the rise of Hitler in Germany and his coming to power in 1933, a small grass field at the village of Brustem, part of the community of Sint-Truiden (Saint-Trond in French), came into use by the Belgian Air Force. This grass field served as an emergency field for the 3rd and 4th squadrons of the Second Fighter Regiment stationed at Nijvel (Nivelles). Several governments, like those of Belgium and France, feared conflict with their neighbor Germany and wanted to take precautions.

This fear was justified. On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded Belgium for the second time in little over 25 years. The squadrons of Nijvel had managed to escape aerial attacks and landed at Sint-Truiden. However, already the afternoon of 10 May, the majority of the Fiat CR 42’s were destroyed on the ground by dive-bombing Stuka’s and Messerschmitt ME-109’s. Only six aircraft managed to escape the following day, 11 May.

On 12 May the Germans occupied Sint-Truiden and the grass field. Farm land was commandeered to expand the field that was used to first support the German ground armies and then became a supporting field for the bombing operations against England. During 1941, the Luftwaffe turned the field into a large permanent airfield. Several hardstands, hangars, munitions depots, administrative buildings, living quarters at Bevingen, air defence positions, etc. were built as well as three runways. One runway was 5,250 feet long, the second 5,070 feet while the third runway was 4,740 feet long. All three runways were 165 feet wide.

The airbase, known to the Germans as Fliegerhorst 309, became an integral part of the Kammhuberlinie, name for the defensive line against the British bombers that had started to fly bombing missions against German cities at nighttime. Situated at the gateway to the Ruhr, St.-Trond quickly became one of the Luftwaffe’s foremost night fighter bases. From 6 March 1942 until March 1944, the famous II./NJG 1 was based at Horst 309 (2nd Group of NachtJagdGeschwader 1). They were followed by the IV./NJG 1 that stayed at the base from March 1944 until September 1944, when St.-Trond was liberated by the Americans. During four long and hard years, St-Trond was occupied by German armed forces and almost daily, confronted with the horrors of war.

Sint-Truiden was liberated by elements of the 2nd US Armored Division around 8 September 1944, more precisely the 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion. In the wake of the 2nd Armored Division followed the 834th Aviation Engineer Battalion that went straight to work on the former German airbase, repairing the runways and infrastructure. On 30 September 1944 they declared Station A-92 ready for use. That same day, the advance element of the 404th Fighter Group arrived at A-92.

The 404th Fighter Group, consisting of the 506th, 507th and 508th Fighter Squadrons, was part of IX TAC of the US 9th Air Force. With TAC standing for Tactical Air Command which meant the 404th Fighter Group flew in support of the American ground armies. Day in day out (weather permitting of course) the pilots flew dangerous ground attack missions in their P-47 Thunderbolt against targets like railway yards, armored cars, vehicles, tanks and defensive positions set up by the enemy in fortified villages, etc. Within a week the 404th was joined by the 48th Fighter Group and its three squadrons, the 492nd,  493rd and 494th. For a period of  a little over six months (October 1944 – April 1945) the airbase at Brustem would be the home for about 160 Thunderbolts and 2.500 Americans.

When both Fighter Groups left for their next stations in Germany, they were followed by the 386th Bomb Group (medium) flying the A-26 Invader. This unit was also part of the 9th Air Force and flew from St.-Trond until July 1945. Another American unit, the 305th Bomb Group (heavy) of the 8th Air Force, took its place until December 1945 to fulfill its task in the Casey Jones Project.

Finally, in 1947, the Belgian Air Force (B.A.F.) arrived back at Sint-Truiden expanding the airbase in the 1950’s and 1960’s. From the sixties until the base was closed in 1996, it was a training center for the pilots of the Belgian Air Force, first flying the Fouga Magister and then its replacement, the Alpha Jet. For a short but spectacular period (1965 – 1977) the airbase was also home for the Red Devils of the B.A.F.